Both sides of Friar Puck can make good of break
PC men’s hockey fans, like Jim Mora, have spent the last month-plus feeling they could be assuaged by just one ultimately immeasurable victory. Either that, or they sat and rotted through a 45-day time slot that spanned three calendar months, one five-game homestand, and 0-9-1 showing altogether, the same way a starving, salivating tourist waits out an unexplained waiting line at Marchetti’s. The unsolved hunger pangs eventually run their course and utter indifference takes over.
Come what may, the Friars finally hooked their way out of the pothole of futility via a 4-3 scraping of Brown last Tuesday, sending them off on a month-long respite with the Mayor’s Cup, a 3-12-1 overall transcript, and another two-thirds of their 2008-09 Hockey East slate left to consider.
Subsisting on but a single point -extracted out of the since sizzling Vermont in a 2-2 home knot Nov. 7- in the conference standings, Providence can use this December deceleration to compress most any physical and psychological wound it has absorbed in eight consecutive weekends of intercollegiate activity.
Even before their questionably late start to locking twigs with other programs –season opener: a 4-0 suffocation via Northeastern on October 17- they were losing bodies. Junior stopper Ryan Simpson, already coming off two injury-crinkled campaigns, felt another flare-up in practice and has been slow to recuperate. Meanwhile classmate Matt Tommasiello underwent hernia surgery while the others delved into the schedule.
And then, as the frosted Friars crammed to thaw out and catch up with their adversaries, senior pivot Nick Mazzolini made like Simpson and invoked old visions of pain. Eight months removed from Boston College’s Benn Ferriero decking him like a rabid puppy does your living room lamp in the playoffs, Mazzolini went down at the hands of a scorching shot in the aforementioned Vermont game. He hasn’t been available since.
But if all goes according to plan, all three will pace themselves to a satisfactory shift-ready state in time for a January 10 tussle with UMass-Lowell. And even if they cannot factor themselves in so readily or sufficiently (Simpson’s state, historically speaking, is the most dubious), the other constituents of Hockey East’s most populous dressing room have no reason not to restore order in their collective backbone.
The likes of freshman goaltender Justin Gates, in particular, should feel free to take comfort in their accumulation of experience, but dust away the statistical barnacles on top of it. With the torrential leak that amounted to a cumulative 67 goals against in 16 games (a toe-curling median of 4.1875) having circumstantially subsided, the Friars simply must accept the offering for a breather and consider 2009 their chance to reverse the momentum.
Their nine superiors –ranging from ninth-place Merrimack and their six points to regal Northeastern and their 17 points- will hardly be inclined to let up. All the more reason for PC to plop all of the last three months’ worth of Zamboni snow onto the immediate past and meticulously balance its month-long recuperate, retool, and refocus regimen.
Down the hall and on a sharp right turn, the women’s program needs to somehow deploy a momentum trapper between now and their matinee excursion to Yale two weeks from Tuesday. Ever since they comfortably neutralized a shaky course of action in October –starting 2-5 overall, competitive upshots to every game aside- Bob Deraney’s dogged pupils have squeezed out a 7-1-2 run for a 9-6-2 transcript with exactly half of the regular season consumed.
They already proved in one spurt that they can take unusually lengthy leave from game action without losing their touch, waiting out a full seven-day interval between an authoritative sweep of Robert Morris and a heady 2-0 tip-over of rival Connecticut mid-November. They’ll have to stretch their patience and persistence a tad longer before they attempt to build on yet another road sweep in Maine last weekend.
If the PC women are to use any aspect of their holiday to their direct benefit as opposed to strictly fidgeting for fear of momentum loss, they ought to rationally chew over the implications of the second half, then sharpen their skates and canines for the thundering throttle their fans have long missed.
Four of the Friars’ next five games constitute the remainder of their nonconference schedule, where they are currently an iffy 4-4-1. A January 13 excursion to Dartmouth spells their best chance of restoring membership in the national leaderboard.
Otherwise, they need to keep their so far Great Wall of Defense (31 GA in 17 games) from letting up and inject a pinch of consistency into their offensive brigade in order to ascend through the Hockey East standings. Of the 13 remaining intraleague games, seven are against their statistical superiors from New Hampshire (3), Boston University (2), and Boston College (2).
They’ve already fizzled and spilled a gift-wrapped win before the Eagles and tripped in a shootout versus the Terriers. The Friars’ New Year’s Resolution, therefore, should revolve around refining their statements to the Hub Clubs and asserting themselves as a still-certified contender.
Cup of jeer
An unidentified webmaster from Inside College Hockey offered 10 tongue-in-cheek promotional schemes that may have augmented the Meehan Auditorium masses at last Tuesday’s Mayor’s Cup contest. Two standout examples: “It’s Buddy Cianci Bobblehead Night” and a suggestion that Rhode Island’s primetime pop culture representative, Peter Griffin, reenact his prison yard “Milkshake” dance at intermission.
The INCH author also made an intriguing flashback in the faux proclamation “Proceeds from tonight's 50-50 raffle go toward Save the Skating Friar, because the cause should never be forgotten,” referring to the penultimate year of Paul Pooley when the program temporarily purged its iconic jersey logo in favor of the PC basketball emblem. Incidentally, a new Uniform Reform movement this year is probably focused on trying to reverse the seemingly unpopular silver helmets.
Strange statistical structures
With the standings virtually frozen in both sets of Hockey East till after New Year’s, a light sprinkling of peculiarities shall remain unruffled for the time being:
1. Though they are the runaway leaders in the way of points, the Boston College women rate #4 in the way of winning percentage at .682. In that unrecorded column, they trail the fourth-place Friars (.6875), third-place New Hampshire (.722), and runners-up BU (.750). Then again, all of the Eagles’ conference cohabitants have at least two games in hand on them.
2. The Vermont men, comfortably solitary in second place, bear a negative GF-GA differential of 28-29. Blame it on a 7-2 home lashing by BU back on November 1.
3. Same problem for the New Hampshire men, who are knotted for third with BC, but have authorized two more goals (34) than they’ve scored when clashing with conference cohabitants. That can be attributed to Brian Foster’s brief mid-November injury, during which rookie Matt Di Girolamo was started in haste and let 16 through over a span of two nights.
4. Sticking with the theme of offense-defense proficiency, UMass-Lowell brandishes the second-best scoring differential of 33-24, yet they still in seventh place at 5-5-0 –albeit three points shy of lassoing the second-place Catamounts.
5. The BU women have already rounded out and swept their season series with the formerly almighty New Hampshire. But to the shorthanded Wildcats’ credit, they pushed two of those three falters into a shootout, affording them two valuable points.
Quick Feeds: Here’s a toe-curling twist of news for those puckheads who dispense all their passion on college rinks and detest the prospect of “professionalizing” the collegiate game: UMass-Lowell goaltender T.J. Massie, summoned to emergency active backup duties during Carter Hutton’s recovery period was (albeit voluntarily) “sent down” to Tier I juniors and will likely spend the rest of the year with the USHL’s Tri-City Storm. There’s no convincing indication his days as a Riverhawk are done with, though…After a minor sophomore recession (together with the rest of her team) last year, BC women’s scoring beacon Kelli Stack is on pace for a relatively facile career year with 14 strikes and 31 points to top the league scoring charts. PC’s Laura Veharanta, though, currently splits the top slot in terms of power play goals with seven apiece…A year ago about this time, with a sizeable packet of teammates away at World Juniors, Michigan forward Aaron Palushaj had his breakout game (goal, two assists) at the expense of the Friars in the Great Lakes Invitational. He has since evolved to the top of the Wolverine scoring charts and will don a USA uni himself next week in Ottawa…UConn sizzler Dominique Thibault leads the WHEA in both plus/minus (+21) and shots on net (103). Her third registered stab against BC last week made her the first, and so far only, puckslinger with at least 100 shots on the year…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: the Dartmouth women, sizzling up till a two-game sweep at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth, snap a 17-day hiatus from game action to play host to Harvard.
Al Daniel can be reached at email@example.com